One special opportunity I’ve had this semester is that I’ve been able to be an undergraduate Teaching Assistant for Physics II. The undergraduate TAs staff the room during labs in order to help the students with the lab activities and answer questions. Sometimes, it can be intimidating to directly ask a professor what seems to be a simple question and that is where the undergraduate TA shines to fill in the gap. Also, at least in Physics II, the graduate TA and the professor float between two labs so they may not always be available during lab to answer questions immediately. In addition to being available during lab sessions, many of the TAs also do separate office hours either on Wednesday or Sunday of every week.
The undergraduate TAs are also responsible for grading the in-class lab activities. It can be awkward knowing the grades of some of your friends who happen to be taking the course, but you can rest assured that federal law in the form of FERPA enjoins us from discussing them with anyone who is not on the course staff. Let’s not forget that the labs are the most generously graded part of the course, and if you come to any of the many office hours offered during the week, you can walk out with a perfect score on your lab and half the points back on your post-lab activity. For compensation, undergraduate TAs either get two free elective credits per semester or they can be paid out of their work-study allotment.
Of course, the compensation (be it money or academic credit) is not really the reason why anyone TAs the course. This semester has been my first semester working as a TA for the class, and it has been a very rewarding experience. All of the TAs were once students in the course, so we know firsthand some of the trickier parts and how we were able to do well in them. Some of the best tips on how to succeed in the course are best given on a student to student basis. I know I enjoy seeing my students do well in the class, and that I would do anything to help them succeed.
We all know that Physics II has a reputation for being one of the harder core courses for most School of Engineering and Science majors. In fact, while taking the course, I found the hardest part of the exams was the multiple choice questions, simply because there is no partial credit given. I think a lot of students would agree with me that short answer questions are great because they allow for partial credit if you can tell the grader what you were thinking at the time of taking the test.
If you have the opportunity to TA a course as a student here, I would highly encourage you to do so especially if you enjoy helping people. A secondary benefit is the fact that one of the best ways to learn something is to have to teach it somebody else.